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Paul v. Astrue

January 8, 2009

EUGENE PAUL, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits. As discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and this matter remanded for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Eugene Paul was born on September 9, 1953, and was fifty-three years old at the time of his administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 48, 252.] He has three years of college education and past relevant work experience as a production worker and telemarketer. [AR 18, 256.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, a ruptured left ear drum and gout. [AR 30.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on December 3, 2007, and filed on December 14, 2007. On August 19, 2008, defendant filed an answer and plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On November 25, 2008, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") on September 13, 2005, alleging disability since August 29, 2005. [AR 48, 236.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on July 10, 2007, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Barry S. Brown. [AR 252.] Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified. [AR 253, 254.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision filed on August 20, 2007. [AR 13-19.] When the Appeals Council denied review on November 9, 2007, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 5-7.]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...


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